Let's be honest, one of the best parts of hosting or attending a gathering is the food, right? (You obviously know where my priorities lie...ahem!) Some of my favorite party snacks growing up were cheese and veggie platters, sour cream & onion dip + potato chips, mozzarella sticks, potato skins, and canned black olives.
If I was lucky, the host (or mom if I was at a friend's house for a sleepover) would make hot cheese dip, fondly called queso for short. This always consisted of two name brand ingredients melted together in the microwave or slow cooker: a rectangle of bright orange processed "cheese" + a can of diced tomatoes with chiles.
Served with corn chips or tortilla chips, this queso dip disappeared lightning fast. And I have to admit, it was good. Okay, better than good. Frigging delicious. I loved this stuff back in the day!
Real Cheese Versus Processed Cheese in Queso Dip
Eventually (as an adult) I got the opportunity to try a queso dip made with real cheese at a Tex-Mex restaurant. I was blown away at the difference! I could tell instantly that it was made with real cheese because it had a different and more complex flavor.
Most queso dips served in restaurants across the U.S. are made with industrial canned nacho cheese or the processed cheese product that I mentioned above, so it tastes the same every single time. That's the thing about real food recipes...they use seasonal, fresh, and/or less processed ingredients so the taste is never exactly the same.
I've been seeking out the good (real) stuff at restaurants ever since. Are they few and far between? Yes, but so worth it! Cause once you have a creamy cheese dip with real food ingredients, the canned stuff just doesn't compare.
Spice Up Your Game Day (or Party) Spread with Easy Queso DipOf course, I grew tired of relying on restaurants for my queso fix, so I decided to experiment with my own homemade queso recipe. This is "game day" season, after all, which gives me an excuse to try new appetizer recipes. And trust me, my concept artist boyfriend doesn't mind either! (He was the hand model for these photographs and even took the very last one.)
After consulting the Joy of Cooking + a slew of queso recipes across the internet that actually used real cheese (the V word is rampant), I whittled it down to a combination of ingredients that sounded good to me and prepared to give it a go.
Homemade Queso Is Made With Simple Ingredients
One thing that made me happy about this homemade queso recipe (that I'm sure you'll appreciate) is that it doesn't require any fancy ingredients. They're all easy to find and fairly inexpensive.
I had most of them at home already, then grabbed the rest--Old El Paso™ chopped green chiles, fire-roasted diced tomatoes, two types of block cheese (grass-fed sharp cheddar and jalapeno jack), a lime, a poblano pepper + jalapeno pepper (a.k.a. chiles), and organic corn tortilla chips--at my local Albertsons grocery store here in Dallas.
What does this mean? Good things! If you've got 30 minutes (or less) to spare, you can make a delicious, from-scratch queso dip at home. No need to rely on the jarred or canned stuff! And the best part? Your guests will happily gobble it up and you can feel good about feeding them delicious snacks with real food ingredients.
How to Make Homemade Queso Dip: It's Much Easier Than You'd Think
The basic technique for making a creamy homemade cheese dip or sauce is to start with a roux (cooking fat + thickener), slowly stir in a creamy liquid (milk, half & half, or heavy whipping cream), then even more slowly stir in small amounts of shredded cheese until everything is melted and silky smooth. Essentially, you're creating a bechamel sauce (basic white sauce) then adding cheese + other mix-ins for extra flavor. Very easy stuff!
If you've ever made a creamy homemade gravy this is a very similar process, but actually quicker. In this case, the cheese will quickly help to thicken the sauce into a dip, whereas gravy takes about 10-15 minutes to reduce and thicken up on the stove top with no added ingredients except seasonings.
TIP: Because making queso is such a quick process, make sure to prep and cook (if necessary) all the other ingredients first. This way there's no room for any distractions that'll allow the roux burn, bechamel curdle, or cheese to become clumpy/oily/stringy while you're trying to multitask in the kitchen.
Flavoring Queso Dip: Room For Lots of Variation
Once you stir in and melt all the cheese, you essentially have a basic queso (cheese) dip. However, the queso that we (as Americans) know and love, generally includes chiles and tomatoes + seasonings, as well. Technically this is called chile con queso (cheese with chiles); however we normally just refer to it by its shortened version: queso.
The final flavor of your homemade queso depends on the types of cheeses, add-ins, and seasoning you use. In my case, I added cooked onion, mild chiles (poblano & jalapeno), garlic, fire-roasted tomatoes, cumin, chile powder, and sea salt to give the queso a balanced flavor.
You could easily add more chiles to make it spicier or more seasonings to give it a punch. I also used a brand of sharp cheddar with a strong taste, so that gave the queso a unique background flavor in combination with pepper jack + cream cheese for added creaminess. Want a more mild flavor? Use a mild cheddar or Monterey jack cheese instead! There are lots of options for you to make it your own! :)
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Homemade Queso (Cheese) DipAn easy homemade queso dip recipe made with three types of real cheese, onion, garlic, peppers, and spices in 30 minutes or less. Perfect for game day parties, holiday gatherings, or a relaxing night in!
Yield: 4 cups (approximately)
1 teaspoon of cooking oil (like THIS oil)
1/2 a yellow onion, diced
1 poblano pepper, deseeded & diced
1 jalapeno pepper, deseeded & diced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tablespoons of butter
2 tablespoons of all-purpose flour (or your favorite thickener with a smooth texture)
1-1 1/2 cups of half & half (adjust according to desired thickness)
8 ounces of sharp cheddar cheese, finely grated*
4 ounces of pepper jack cheese, finely grated
4 ounces of cream cheese, cubed
1 (4 oz) can of Old El Paso™ chopped green chiles, undrained
7 ounces (1/2 a can) of fire roasted diced tomatoes, drained OR fresh tomatoes diced
Juice from 1/2 a lime
1 teaspoon of cumin powder (like THIS powder)
1 teaspoon of chili powder (like THIS powder)
Sea salt, to taste (like THIS salt)
Cayenne pepper, to taste
*Note: I urge you to buy block cheese and grate it by hand, as pre-shredded cheese is covered in anti-caking ingredients that can cause it to clump instead of melting into a smooth dip.
ceramic bowl or mini cast-iron skillet, for serving
Prep the ingredients first so you're not distracted while making the cheese dip: peel and dice the onion, dice the poblano and jalapeno pepper (after removing the stem and seeds), peel & mince the garlic, shred both the cheeses, cube the cream cheese, measure out the butter, flour (or preferred thickener), and half & half, and drain and measure out the tomatoes. Set the sea salt, cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper, lime, and chopped green chiles to the side to add last.
Heat a skillet to medium. Add the cooking oil, followed by the diced onion, jalapeno, and poblano. Sprinkle the veggies with a little sea salt (to taste) and cook for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, then turn off the heat and set aside.
Heat a saucepan to medium-low, add the butter, and let it melt. Slowly sprinkle in the flour a bit at a time, stirring constantly, then let the butter/flour (roux) mixture cook for about 5 minutes, or until it's lightly browned. Slowly pour in the half & half, stirring constantly (and well) to prevent clumps.
Bring the mixture up to a slight simmer (you will see bubbles form around the edge of the milk), reduce the heat to LOW, then slowly add the shredded cheese about 1/4 cup at a time, stirring constantly to prevent clumps or the cheese from separating. The KEY to success here is to let each portion of cheese melt fully before adding the next amount.
Once all the shredded cheese is fully incorporated and smooth, add the cream cheese in chunks and stir until fully dissolved. Gently fold in the cooked onion, peppers, garlic, diced green chiles (undrained), tomatoes (drained), cumin powder, chili powder, and cayenne pepper. Taste the mixture and add sea salt to taste, as well as more spices, if you feel necessary. Remove from heat and serve immediately with chips or your favorite dipping foods.
I'd like to hear from YOU!
Do you have a favorite queso dip or an awesome appetizer recipe you like to serve or eat at gatherings?
This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Albertsons. The opinions and text are all mine.